by Susan McCarthy
Disclosure: As an Amazon Affiliate I earn from qualify purchases at no additional cost to you.
I know, losing weight – or the loftier ideal – getting healthy, seem like perfectly good goals. Let’s face it, your doctor has likely expounded upon attaining said goals. But Michelle Segar, the author of No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness, has done research into why those reasons aren’t as motivating as you may think.
And it comes down to how long it takes to lose weight – basically, not immediately. It seems that our brains seek out immediate gratification. When given the options of, say, going to the gym, working out for an hour, and seeing no discernable difference for our efforts; or, chilling with Parks and Recreation for a couple of hours and feeling cheerier, which are you going to do?
If you said, go to the gym, then chances are you’re working with a better, more inspiring reason than weight loss.
Willpower Isn’t the Answer
On the other hand, if you’ve ever become frustrated after a week of sweating, dealing with aching muscles, and scrambling to get things done while adding workouts to your schedule…only to notice that the scale has moved a heck of a lot less than you think it should have for the effort you put in, losing weight as a motivating factor suddenly is a lot less motivating.
You’re running on willpower to reach a goal that’s not going to happen until some vague day in the future. Once life comes along and you feel more stressed or tired than usual, your willpower will be depleted, and you won’t be able to push yourself to workout.
But Segar points out that you can do away with that scenario by changing your Why from future-oriented to now-oriented.
Find a Better Why
The brain wants immediate gratification and feedback for its actions. That makes sense. Chances are you wouldn’t care about your favorite sweet treat if you didn’t get to enjoy the flavor and rush of energy until weeks – or months – later. (Which would be bizarre. Imagine vacuuming the house and suddenly having the flavor of chocolate cake on your tongue…and wondering, when did I eat cake?)
Feeling an immediate benefit helps connect your actions to their results. What does this mean for exercise? It’s not like you feel healthier for a single workout or become noticeably firmer for doing a 30-minute strength training routine. And that’s Segar’s reasoning behind eliminating health or weight loss as a reason to move.
What does she consider to be a better Why? Focusing on how exercise make you feel while (or immediately after) working out – less stressed, more energized, in a better mood, inspired, proud of yourself, and other positive benefits.
Release Your Idea of What Exercise Looks Like
If pushing yourself through a workout makes you feel tired, achy, and miserable, then this immediate feedback is telling you – hey, this doesn’t feel good; stop it; why am I doing this? Not a great mindset for long-term motivation. However, if you workout and feel strong and clear-headed, then you’re going to want to experience more of that – hey, that felt fantastic! Let’s do it again.
What gets you to that rewarding experience depends on your mental and physical state. Let’s face it – some people will leave a spin class that left them drenched in sweat and feel a boost of energy while others will be thinking, “well, at least that’s over.” One person will continue going to spin classes – and I think you can guess which one.
If you think that you should work out at full capacity if you want to see benefits, keep in mind that the only result you’re going to notice after exercising is the frustration that you made yourself miserable for an hour and you can’t see how you got any closer to your goal.
Figure Out What Makes You Feel Great
So, what type of movement makes you feel great? Maybe dancing around your bedroom allows you to feel happy or a walk relaxes you at the end of the day. Start there. If a challenging workout leaves you sweating and smiling, start there (or, keep doing that, you’ve obviously already figured out your motivation for exercise).
The title of Segar’s book, No Sweat, doesn’t mean that you should avoid exerting yourself, but instead notice that dripping sweat isn’t your real reason for working out. Instead, look for a form of movement that adds to your sense of well-being. If you’re thinking that gardening or taking a walk or doing yoga isn’t strenuous enough to be considered a real workout, consider what you’ll stick with in the long term – an evening stroll or spin class.
Are you better off pushing yourself for five weeks, only to feel frustrated that you can’t keep up that pace for long enough to “make a difference?” Or would you be better off taking a 20-30-minute walk each evening, something you stick with for the year (and beyond)? Which form of movement will better support your physical and mental health – working out like crazy for a few weeks or finding ways to move more every day?
I know, we always start with the best of intentions (I’ll stick with that challenging workout this time!). But, if our mind is looking for the immediate benefits, then it’s to our advantage to look for ways of moving that grant us a sense of well-being.
Hey, there. I'm not a health professional of any sort. I'm sharing what I'm reading and how I'm incorporating elements of well-being into my life. Find your best path by talking to the appropriate people.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, pursues learning, practicing, and sharing information about the everyday habits that can lead to living a better life.